Gas Pipeline Explosions are Preventable….Blaming the Soil and Rain is Inexcusable

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Today I opened up my newspaper to page one headlines blaming a recent gas pipeline explosion which killed a 12 year old girl on rain and the soil conditions in North Texas. The same story goes on to explain that 2800 people will be displaced as Atmos will be replacing gas lines over a large area North of Love Field. I see the very careful messaging of what appears to be a very dangerous situation that Atmos has allowed to fester for years.

To begin with, gas pipelines, fittings and valves have a predetermined life expectancy after which time, they must be replaced. In addition, the gas company must regularly and consistently inspect the pipelines with all fittings and replace any problems as they are discovered. These actions are done because gas pipelines are very dangerous and because regularly replacing and inspecting these lines is key to prevent explosions like the one that occurred last week in Dallas. The fact that Atmos and the City of Dallas is requiring 2800 homes to be without gas shows that a much larger and deeper problem exists than a single deadly malfunction; it shows that the entire area has been neglected for a very long time causing all of the pipelines in an enormous area must be replaced. First reports indicate that the gas pipelines in the area are steel, which should have been replaced with more flexible plastic pipes years ago. Flexible plastic pipes adjust to the ever expanding and shrinking Texas soils much better. The fact that they have not been replaced is telling concerning the deficiencies in Atmos safety system to both inspect and regularly replace steel infrastructure that absolutely will corrode over time. In addition, in areas known to have significant soil movement, it is common to use sand as cushioning material to keep those pipes from moving as much. If these pipes were not being inspected, then Atmos could only be reactive when a rupture occurs rather than proactive in making the entire pipeline system safer.

All of this brings me back to the first statement, blaming a gas pipeline explosion on soil and rain is inexcusable. When I first heard Atmos representatives on the news doing so last night, I realized I was watching real-time the construction of a legal defense to the claims that are sure to be brought by the family of the young girl that was killed and by 2800 homeowners whose lives will be turned upside down for the next several months. Don’t blame it on us, blame it on the rain… blame it on the soil. Our hands should not have the blood of that child on them. Don’t hold us financially accountable for the damage we have caused.

It is not news to Atmos that the soil in Dallas shrinks and cracks as it dries and expands as the subsoil absorbs water. It is a fact of life that Atmos must plan for as it constructs, inspects, and replaces its gas pipelines. The soil and its’ properties was here before Atmos or its predecessor chose to install the gas pipelines. The safety systems must reflect on-the-ground reality of the conditions that the pipelines will have to endure. If the pipelines cannot do so, they must be replaced. Atmos, to the degree that your safety systems allowed steel pipeline that outlived its usefulness and was not replaced as it should have been, you created a ticking time-bomb. It was not so much of a matter of if someone would be hurt or killed, but when and who all would be hurt or killed. Gas pipeline explosions have destroyed commercial buildings, schools and other large areas where people gather, as well as single family homes. This failure had the potential to kill dozens and dozens of innocent people. The expansive danger zone of pipelines in the entire area that are now considered dangerous tells us just how bad the situation could have been and the danger that 2800 homes in the Love Field area have been living with for years.

I suspect that as time and litigation moves forward we will see the deficiency in the safety programs put on display as we see Atmos attempt to use the weather and soil to limit their legal responsibility for killing that 12 year old child. It is my hope that through the litigation that is sure to occur, that a jury will show Atmos that there is a price to be paid for deferred maintence allowing deadly conditions to exist. I hope that all gas companies used the tragedy as an opportunity to really improve the way they inspect and replace aged gas pipeline infrastructure. Our safety depends upon it.